An exciting new dawn for mental health

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week:

As we start Mental Health Awareness Week, I have been thinking how it is somewhat similar to Valentine’s Day. Stay with me on this!

They both happen just once a year, but both acknowledge things we should be focusing on every day of the year. We should let our loved ones know they are cherished all year round. Similarly, we must also nurture the mental health and wellbeing of not just ourselves, but those near us and wider society, throughout the year.

Coincidentally, almost appropriately, the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is relationships.

We have come a long way since the first Mental Health Awareness Week in 2000 in terms of how comfortable we are speaking about mental health. Not only is mental health now a government priority, but it also an issue covered much more widely in the media, and often more openly discussed than previously.

So much has been achieved in terms of breaking down the stigma that has so long existed. But we know that a certain amount still remains, which is why it is important we have initiatives like this to highlight and normalise the conversations that should be had around mental health.

It is so relevant that there is a focus on relationships, as they are fundamental to health and wellbeing – not just of individuals, but society on the whole.

We know how vitally important relationships are in terms of mental health outcomes for children and young people in their formative years. But they remain important as a marker throughout life- we need to be able to have positive, healthy relationships at every age. The ability for people to develop these important relationships of course starts in childhood.

Future in Mind  the report from the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce  highlights how vital relationships are in its introduction, stating that ‘at the heart of health and wellbeing are children and young people’s relationships with others’. This is a theme that is woven throughout the document.

One of the impressive things about Future in Mind was how organisations and individuals came together to form a consensus around mental health, reflecting the idea that relationships are important even at a strategic level. Robust conversations were had, we challenged each other, but like any good relationship we have come out stronger and the end result is that we have a shared vision of what we want to achieve.

All of us who care for children, whether professionally or personally, recognise the importance of children and young people feeling that those who care for them are united rather than divided. This isn’t just in day-to-day life, but also includes messages we give consistently in services and schools, and in every contact we have.

Services, clinicians, commissioners, teachers and anyone working at the front line with children need to have strong collaborative relationships, where supporting the best outcomes for children and young people is the end goal.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a national learning event for the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Schools Link programme. The pilot epitomises the joined up approach that is needed to improve children and young people’s mental health services, and highlights how important relationships are across services.

NHS England and Department for Education commissioned this pilot last summer with the aim of helping education and mental health to understand each other better, work more closely together and to deliver the kind of support that changes young people’s lives.

We all know how much this is needed, with a rising tide of anxiety, depression, behavioural problems and self-harm. There is compelling evidence that early access to right support is highly effective, but we know that in many cases this has not happened.

This Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services and Schools Link Pilot is one of the key ways we are seeking to change this.

A total of 22 pilot sites, encompassing 27 CCGs and 255 schools, have been working tirelessly since last summer to develop and test a named mental health lead in schools approach, engaging in joint training and looking at new ways of working within schools and CYP MH services.

Across the country we have seen some really interesting and innovative approaches between schools and CAMHS, including:

  • Setting up a triage system where school staff can make a call to a CAMHS professional and access advice on what to do/where to refer.
  • Setting up multi-agency workshops with ‘speed-dating’ events, giving teachers the opportunity to ask CAMHS professionals questions – again involving schools not involved in the pilot.
  • Running fit-fests in schools in conjunction with local CAMHS.

I look forward to continuing to build a strong working relationship between schools and CAMHS. Schools are places where young people have the chance to bloom and grow; we want to translate the learning from this pilot to ensure that across the country we are nurturing young minds in a mentally healthy and supportive environment.

It’s so heartening to see the innovative working that is happening across the country to improve mental health outcomes. The examples of multi-agency working that are on the ground demonstrating the transformation of services.

We need to be certain that through our strong working relationships, services are mending the damage that children with mental health problems have experienced in the past as we move towards this exciting new dawn for mental health.

Jacqueline Cornish

Dr Jacqueline Cornish was the National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood in NHS England from 2013 to 2019.

As a clinician she specialised in pioneering treatments for childhood cancer and leukaemia, and brought to NHS England 20 years’ leadership experience in the NHS, having been Head of Division of Women’s and Children’s Services at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, and a former Director of Paediatric Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

The post of National Clinical Director for Children and Young People is now held by Professor Simon Kenny, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool and National Clinical Lead for Paediatric Surgery for the Getting It Right First Time programme.